Foal with Hoof Problems (Club Foot)

Foal with Hoof Problems (Club Foot)

When dealing with club feet, radiographs can and should be taken to evaluate foot conformation and the structures within the hoof capsule. These X rays are of a foal with a Grade 3 club foot.

Photo: R.F. Redden, DVM

Q: We have a colt that was born April 19, 2009. We have worked with him since he was born. The farrier was out about two weeks ago (in late Sept. 2009) and trimmed his hooves. They had gotten long and had started to have some small cracks. We live in an area with really soft/sandy soil.

We had the vet out last on Oct. 2, 2009, to give him shots and pull a Coggins and he saw nothing wrong with his hooves.

We are planning to show him in a show next weekend (Oct. 16, 2009). We had him picked up on Oct. 5 to get some "finishing" training and got a call that afternoon from the trainer who said it appeared the colt either had a bad farrier job or he was starting to get a club foot.

This horse has great conformation. He is 95% foundation Quarter Horse. He did have a "growing spell" about two or three weeks ago. He is on hay, pasture, and Omolene 200 for growing foals.

We have a different farrier who said he could fix the colt's foot by building up and trimming, but it would take some time. We talked to our vet, and he immediately mentioned surgery (without seeing him), but did tell us to bring him in and talk to the surgeon and see what he thought when he saw him.

The farrier said we should go ahead and show him. We will not see the vet until Monday morning (Oct. 12).

I have done research and right now I am on information overload, and not sure what to do or believe. Attached is a picture of his hooves. He is 4 months old in this picture. Do you think it's possible for the farrier to fix him and not put him through surgery? If just farrier work isn't successful, will that make the surgery more difficult?

Any information on the surgery? What they do, recovery time, what is involved for recovery ... anything?

Peggy Gore, via e-mail

A: The right forefoot shows what is termed an acquired flexural deformity (club foot). The lay term is contracted tendon, but this is a misnomer, as tendons lack the ability to contract. This condition is acquired when the horse is between 2 and 5 months old. Most of the causes are speculative. There certainly appears to be a heritable component from somewhere in the lineage of the sire or dam. Other causes that might play a role are nutrition, trauma from hard ground, developmental orthopedic disease (DOD), and pain.

Club foot

Farriery alone will not solve a marked flexural deformity in a foot.

The right forefoot can be examined from the photo supplied, and it can be compared with the left forefoot. The right fore shows an upright hoof wall angle with the beginning of a "dish" in the dorsal hoof wall. The hoof-pastern axis is broken forward (he displays a flexural deformity) on the right fore when compared to the left fore, where the surface of the pastern and the surface of the hoof wall (correctly) form a straight line or are parallel.

The heel of the right foot is not able to contact the ground, and all weight-bearing is shifted to the toe of the foot. The flexural deformity and the inability of the heel of the foot to contact the ground indicate a shortening of the musculotendinous unit of the deep digital flexor tendon. This musculotendinous unit extends from the elbow, runs down the back of the leg, and attaches under the distal phalanx (coffin bone).

Radiographs can and should be taken to evaluate foot conformation and the structures within the hoof capsule. The foal is given mild sedation to relax him, and the forefeet are placed on blocks of equal height. With the animal bearing weight on both limbs, lateral radiographs show the position of the distal phalanx and whether the distal interphalangeal joint (coffin joint) is fixed in the flexed position (confirming a flexural deformity).

The foot in the photograph might need a surgery called an inferior check ligament desmotomy combined with the appropriate farriery. Farriery alone will not resolve a foot with a marked flexural deformity. The surgery is simple and involves transecting a ligament that originates behind the knee and attaches at the middle of the deep flexor tendon. This release increases the length of the musculotendinous unit, allows the foot distortion to be corrected, and allows the animal to assume an acceptable hoof conformation.

The distortion of the hoof capsule is changed by the farrier at the time of surgery and continued following the operation. Some farriers will place a toe extension at the time of surgery with the thought it will increase pressure in the heel area. I have not found them to be necessary and no longer apply them.

The aftercare is easy and straightforward, and the protocol is at the discretion of the surgeon, but it generally involves some amount of hand walking.

It is best to perform the surgery as early as possible before there is a severe distortion in the hoof capsule. At a young age the animal will basically outgrow any scar resulting from the surgery.

This type of surgery combined with the necessary farriery should allow the youngster to enter adulthood with a well-conformed, functional foot.

About the Author

Stephen E. O'Grady, DVM, MRCVS

Stephen E. O'Grady, DVM, MRCVS, was a professional farrier for 10 years prior to obtaining his degree in veterinary medicine. He learned farriery through a formal apprenticeship under Hall of Fame farrier Joseph M. Pierce of West Chester, Penn. After graduating from veterinary school, O'Grady did an internship in Capetown, South Africa. Then he joined Dan Flynn, VMD, at Georgetown Equine Hospital in Charlottesville, Va., as an associate for five years. Since that time, he has operated a private practice in Virginia and South Africa, with a large portion of the practice devoted to equine podiatry. He has published numerous articles and lectured extensively on equine foot problems. His web site is

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